Pink Slime…It’s What’s For Dinner

No, I don’t mean the delightful concoction served in McDonald’s the world over. I mean what I made last night, using nothing but pastured, organic, locally-grown, custom butchered and all together fancy pork steak. Read this as very expensive.  Ugh. 

pastured pink slime

It’s been a rough week for farm learning for me.  This morning caught me sobbing hysterically that nearly all my seedlings had died, even though I carefully watered them and followed all of Dr. Google’s instructions (give me a break, I am nearly 10 months pregnant. Hysterical sobs, although rare, are just par for the course.) I just feel so inadequate – this is my full time job at this point, and I can’t even keep a couple of seedlings alive. 

Since most of what I’ve done professionally and studied has been my strengths (reading, analysis, research, etc.) it’s shocking and feels appalling to me how bad I can be at some things that involve feel and experience.  Like making the planting medium (most likely why the seedlings failed) – the instructions say in the consistency of putty or concrete. This sent me for a touch of a tailspin, because I just couldn’t quite figure out if my soil mix was concrete, or more peanut butter?  How much water, exactly, do I need, for a soil mix that I created and is therefore not exactly like any other soil mix out there?

planting trees in the garden

After my episode of hysteria, that definitely involved some cuddles from a patient husband and a confused dog… 

confused dog

I was ready to throw the whole thing out and give up. However the nice and hard thing about our life now is that really isn’t an option.  For the first time, we’re choosing to rely on ourselves to create our food, even if it’s only 2% this year. If I give up until “next year,” that 2% will never grow.  So, I started again, and I made more soil blocks with more water.  This time, they stayed put.  We’ll see how they go. 

Oh, and the pink slime? I now know that if you want to ground sausage in the vitamin, you need to do it in very small batches on a low speed.  Also, that anything with lots of spices and salt tastes pretty good when mixed with sweet potatoes or thrown in a soup. Also, that my sweet and incredible husband will eat anything if it’s called sausage, and will tell me how delicious it is.

sausage

What’s your most recent kitchen disaster? Come on, make me feel better 😉

Cooking Local on Vacation

One of the most fabulous and fun ways that Anthony and I eat locally and also save money on vacation is to always rent a place with a kitchen, and aim to cook 2/3rds of our meals. That seems like a reasonable and sustainable goal, that still allows us to eat out, try local restaurants (food carts in Portland, anyone?) but also have moderate portions of healthy meals, which can be really hard to find.

When we first got to Seattle, the first thing we did the first morning was to go to the nearby Madison Market food co-op to shop for the ingredients to make special meals on the trip.

Madison Market food co-op

I love this place. It was like what Whole Foods wants to appear to be – it really stocks only sustainable produce, meat and fish. We asked the fish counter for which fish was wild, and the Fishmonger looked a bit disgusted and said, “they’re all wild. We don’t sell farmed fish here.” How cool is that?

wild fish counter

They also had a shelf devoted to gluten-free beer, also known as my personal heaven.

GF beer

They also sold tons of local cheeses, which looked great, although we skipped them, having sampled so many at farmers markets, etc.

local cheese

We ended up leaving with:

  • Local wild snapper
  • Organic canned refried beans
  • green apples
  • local goats yogurt
  • red cabbage
  • limes from California
  • chipotle paste
  • carrots
  • ground local elk
  • swiss chard
  • local tomato sauce (I think!)
  • Beer for me 🙂

Now, don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t cheap. We could have eaten out at cheaper restaurants for about the same cost. However, we had meals that highlighted local ingredients that would have cost 3-4x more in a restaurant, plus we had the delight of preparing it exactly the way we wanted to.

If you’re not used to cooking while on vacation, I couldn’t recommend it more. It’s such a great way to live like a local – shopping and eating in the same places they do.  Not to mention, it was such a blast to get to experiment with ingredients that I’ve never had before, such as elk – so delicious, and not at all gamey when minced, if you’re curious.

How to Become a Great Home Chef

In the past few years, somehow, I’ve gotten to be a really decent cook.  I don’t know how it happened, as I used to be the girl who burned grilled cheese and needed a recipe to boil pasta (seriously) but now, instead of eating my cooking because I have to, I find that 95% of the time, I prefer what I make to anything I’d have eating out (save for anything by Chef Thomas Keller or Michael Anthony, who have created perfection in food.) 

zucchini pasta with chicken

It’s been a long term process, that has included everything from throwing dinner parties for 30 people from a tiny kitchen, a week-long stint at the CIA (that’s Culinary Institute, not the other, perhaps more infamous moniker) and hundreds of simple dinners for myself, Anthony, and a few friends. 

Here are the steps I’ve taken to learn, hedge my bets, and grow as a home cook.

  1. Be willing to screw up, eat ugly food that tastes good, and throw out food that doesn’t.If you know me, chances are you know my intense distaste for throwing anything, particularly food, away. However, one of the things that made me willing to keep trying with cooking is the awareness that worst case scenario, I just throw it away. If I had to eat food that tasted terrible, I’d be much less eager to cook and try new recipes. However, with a low to no risk scenario, I feel good about trying new things. Some things, however, look terrible, but taste delicious, like these meatballs I made just a few weeks ago.meatballs beforeexploded meatballs
  2. Find five or ten non-groan inducing, delicious recipes that you look forward to and can make blindfolded. Between Ant and I, these would be roast chicken with vegetables, meat curry, chicken soup, sushi bowls, eggplant crust pizza, roasted vegetable salad, taco salad, and cauliflower fried rice.  We can whip up any of these meals in under an hour (most in 30 minutes or less) and don’t have to check for ingredients or fancy techniques.  On the occasions when we want to eat out but know it’s not the best idea, we can just pick one of these and be served and satisfied. by the time we’d be seated if we drove to a nearby restaurant.
  3. Don’t be afraid to recreate your favorite restaurant meals. If you’re transitioning away from restaurants into home cooking, take the time to learn how to make your favorite foods. For us, this was definitely pizza. I passionately adored the gluten-free pizza from our neighborhood place, but at $23 for a small pie, it just wasn’t worth the cash (or the indigestion from the grains.) So, we quickly learned – and mastered – the aforementioned eggplant based pizza crust, and have never looked back.  Guaranteed, there’s a recipe for every dish available in cookbooks or on the internet, so don’t be afraid – it may even be more delicious than from the restaurant. eggplant crust pizza
  4. Invest in two things – great knives, and great ingredients. Everything else is secondary.  When I got my good cooking knives, everything in my kitchen changed.  The transition from terrible $20 knives from the supermarket to high quality blades totally transformed my cooking. It was easier, faster, and so much less dangerous. Good knives are expensive, but absolutely necessary to a high quality cooking experience. The other thing to invest in would be fantastic, local, delicious, fresh ingredients.  When the ingredients are good, it’s much harder to screw them up. Anything else, from fancy food processors to cast iron skillets, are really nice and can be very helpful, but are not at all necessary to create excellent meals.
     
  5. When in doubt, ask for help. We recently got a beautiful beef roast to cook. It was gorgeous, foil wrapped, and much more expensive than the normal mince or brisket we buy.  I’d never made a roast, and had no idea how to deal with it. Instead of risking it, I asked for help – in this case, from Ant’s mum, but if she hadn’t been around, I’d have called my dad, or a friend, or asked Chef Google. There is nothing wrong with getting help to do something you on’t have experience in, and often, it can turn into a fun, joy filled experience, instead of a kitchen disaster.

    Questions:
    What are your favorite cooking tips?  
    What do you wish you had known when you first started cooking?  
    If you’re not quite a chef yet, what is one thing you’d love to know how to make?